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11:56 p.m. - June 07, 2004
Inarticulate as usual
Sign language interpreters are required to adhere to a stringent code of ethics akin to those of a lawyer or other professional exposed to private information learned on the clock. While I am unconcerned the ethical practices committee will seek me out, I’ll attempt to be articulate and clear while not revealing anything that could diminish the confidentiality and anonymity of all parties involved.

Gotta cover my professional ass.

Today I had a legal assignment in which I was retained by a local police department investigating allegations of inappropriate contact between a teacher and a high school student. Legal interpretation is always stressful for the usual factors – we’re on record, can be reviewed for accuracy (and malpractice suits), and often one’s life literally rests on how well we – legal interpreters – do our jobs. In addition to skill, one must also reckon with one’s own issues of being in / representing authority and making sure that the interpretation is crystal clear for all involved. Legal interpreting is the absolute worst assignment but also the most challenging, and I have enough confidence and the agency’s backing that I rarely become bothered by the situations I’m in.

The investigating deputies and some other higher-up briefed me on the nature of the allegations (this is so the interpreter doesn’t look surprised, etc.) and in came a teacher I know from a distance. The fact-finding (it’s not called an interrogation until one is charged with a crime) began promptly and at first it was the routine – name, address, previous employment. The client was aware of the allegations and strenuously denied them. Hour after hour it went on and the questions, comments, and insinuations were awful. Awful. The man in question is gay and if there is such a thing as gay-baiting, I saw it and wonder how complicit I was in being present as the interpreter.

When asked if he had ever said “------“ to the student, implying sexual favors performed on the 16-year-old, he said no. The deputy said You’ve said yourself you’re gay. Are you telling me you wouldn’t get down on your knees for a good looking kid? and it went downhill from there. The man in question said his preferences were for older men and stated he is the receiving partner in his relationship; the deputy probed that assertion and said something (I can’t remember the exact words now) about how it is typical for queers to desire younger, athletic men and was he immune from the desire? When the man in question denied the insinuation the deputy rephrased, asked if he had ever had sexual thoughts, fantasies, or experiences with a younger man ever – and when the man in question said yes, he was cut off by the deputy. They asked intimate questions about the teacher’s sex life in a mocking tone and snorted when he maintained his stance that many gay men are not attracted to or desire adolescent males. The deputy was thoroughly derogatory and towards the end, the teacher was sobbing and talked about resigning. Throughout it all he was articulate and profoundly moving, delivering a defense of homosexuality that would make any gay-rights lobbyist proud and about halfway through I had a fuzzy moment that threw me off. Somewhere I had identified myself with the teacher and recognized an us-versus-them alignment. I personally felt denigrated and mocked and called a pervert because I am attracted to men.

I am not doing justice to the situation or my emotions during the fact-finding. I felt humiliated by the nature of the (sexual) questions as this gay guy – formerly twinkish, but still slight and with considerable feminine mannerisms – tried to explain how his personal desires and the stereotypical notions as expressed by the deputies were not one and the same (they flat out laughed in his face). I think those same thoughts and it was a gross, base feeling to recognize my own dehumanization of gay men to which I cling as an antidote or buffer while being dehumanized myself. Regardless of my own agency, these deputies would see no difference between myself and the teacher in terms of sexual preferences and this has had an unsettling impression on me that can only be restated as them-against-us. In short, I suspect I chose sides rather than maintaining my position on the fence.

I was angry when I arrived home and it’s been several hours since then, yet I’m still unsettled. Four and a half hours. Even I felt like saying to these over-macho deputies that being gay is not what they were insinuating, that not all gay men are stereotyped poofs who prey on anything with a cock and balls. (Though incidentally, review the contradiction between being weak and powerless – a poof – and one who preys on strong, macho men with muscles.) It is surprising that I would identify with the teacher so strongly.

 

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